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Arts platform Junoon’s founders talk about taking a digital leap

It’s been a heady four years for Junoon, the arts platform founded by Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar. For its next leg, the duo is all set to take a digital leap

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Apr 19, 2016 15:45 IST
Soma Das
Sanjana Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar at Junoon’s office in Versova
Sanjana Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar at Junoon’s office in Versova(Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

It’s been a heady four years for Junoon, the arts platform founded by Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar. For its next leg, the duo is all set to take a digital leap

We are at the Junoon office in Versova. Equal parts functional and artistic, it features a bulletin board with details of their latest events, an ornate coffee table, a mirror with a classic wooden frame, and embroidered cushions thrown on the sofa. “These were part of our houses, of our lives — we have stolen them from our homes,” laughs Sanjna Kapoor, co-founder of Junoon.

It’s been four years since Kapoor and co-founder Sameera Iyengar started Junoon on February 29, 2012, at the Horniman Circle Garden.

How they met

Kapoor and Iyengar came together in 2002. As the director of Prithvi Theatre, Kapoor was looking for someone to assist her (she was heavily pregnant at the time). And Iyengar, who was equipped with a PhD in theatre from University of Chicago, came on board and soon became the director of projects. “Sanjna was eight months pregnant when she hired me. All she told me was, ‘These are the files... now, go ahead and file them’,” laughs Iyengar.

Read: 25 years of Rage

After working closely, Kapoor and Iyengar decided to start their own venture. “My journey had ended (at Prithvi). My ambitions were getting bigger. Junoon came at a time when Kunal (Kapoor, her brother and current director) was free to take over the baby,” says Kapoor, who left Prithvi Theatre after almost two decades at the helm.

Taoos Chaman ki Myna, a play by Junoon as part of their school program (Junoon)

She admits that the lessons learnt at Prithvi spurred them to find ways to make the platform work. “With Junoon, there was a sense of freedom. We were clear that no matter how big our dreams, they were only possible through collaboration. Every performer and audience member would be part of the journey,” adds Kapoor.

“We wouldn’t have imagined Junoon if there was no Prithvi,” emphasises Iyengar, adding, “But unlike Prithvi, we didn’t create a home for theatre groups; we are facilitators, keen on experimenting and exploring various possibilities.”

The art of curating

Over the last few years, Junoon has created a buzz with its signature programmes, including the Mumbai Local sessions, a weekly meet with artists and scientists at venues across Mumbai. Its Arts at Play with Schools is a week-long arts program that brings artists to schools to instruct students on aspects like stagecraft, costume and sound. Junoon also collaborated with the India Theatre Forum and India Foundation for the Arts to offer Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre (SMART), a four-month program for theatre groups to develop their management skills.

Interestingly, Kapoor admits that she was wary of Mumbai Local succeeding in the city: “I was worried that Mumbai doesn’t have a tradition of sitting and listening,” she says. But the sessions picked up, and today the duo has completed a hundred sessions in the city. At one session, theatreperson Ratna Pathak Shah delivered her talk twice, as the space was small, and people had queued up outside. “Cities are big, large and anonymous animals. These sessions allow you to come and not be lost,” says Iyengar.

A scene from Water Stories (Junoon)

Over the past few years, Junoon has collaboratively brought productions like Water Stories (November 2015), created with artists for the Nehru Science Centre’s Water for Life exhibition and Drama.nama (January 2016), in collaboration with Tamaasha Theatre and Sitara Studio, an evening of theatre as part of the tour of Jana Natya Manch and Freedom Theatre from Palestine.

“Like all start-ups, we had big dreams. Things have now started taking shape and form. It feels like we are jumping into the next phase. We have been approached by people in other cities; maybe we can help them set up similar things,” says Kapoor.

The road ahead

For their next stage, Kapoor and Iyengar have a lot of things planned. While their popular Mumbai Local sessions have been archived on their website, they are in the process of setting up infrastructure that will allow them to live-stream the talks. “The digital space extends the reach of live performances and is a place of free sharing. It’s no good if we just reach out to people over 40. We have to be in touch with younger people too,” says Iyengar.

And while their Arts at Play... featured five schools last year, they are hoping to reach out to 10 to 12 schools this year, across tier I and tier II cities like Guwahati, Surat and Nashik. Also on the cards is an arts appreciation course for college students to help them explore arts and meet artists.

While their hands are full at the moment, the duo mention that their efforts are directed towards training people to take forward their vision. “Sameera and I are clear that we have to be able to retire at some point. Junoon has to be able to continue. We don’t want to be spending 500 birthdays saying this is a dream. Everything should evolve. We want to see other crazy people like us, take their junoon forward” says Kapoor.

Be there

Junoon’s Mumbai Local session on April 15, 5.30pm features historian and novelist Shanta Gokhale speaking on translating books

At Kitab Khana, MG Road, Fort

Register for SMART 2016 till April 15
Call: 9922935591